After reading Eva-Maria Metcalf’s book about Astrid Lindgren’s writings, I was blown away by her opinions on the vast differences between the British and American translations of the Swedish Madicken (1960). I will present her thoughts on the translations after I discuss my own findings.
My dad, who is my most loyal follower, went online and ordered the British translation Mardie for me because my library did not have it. Thanks Dad!
Mardie was translated by Patricia Crampton in 1979. It includes pictures by Ilon Wikland. It was printed in Great Britain.
Mischievous Meg was translated by Gerry Bothmer in 1962. The pictures are by Janina Domanska. It was printed in the USA.
I read these two books side by side, paragraph by paragraph. It takes a lot longer to read two books at the same time than it takes to just read two books. But only this way could I discover their differences.
1. Names. It is not just the title character who has been renamed! Here are just some of the name changes:
Main character: Mischievous Meg/Mardie
Home: June Hill/Junedale
Chocolate Dolls: Perker & Smerker/Jerry & Berry
Neighbors: Karlsson Family/Carlsson Family
Neighbor kids: Tore and Maja/Tom and Marie
I’ve never been a fan of name changes in Astrid Lindgren’s works. I believe Madicken would have been a fine name for either edition. Neither the names Mardie nor Meg has the lilting cadence of the name Madicken. Although I haven’t name-checked with the Swedish edition (the library doesn’t want to share their Madicken copy, sigh!) I would bet Mischievous Meg stays closer to the originals than Mardie does. “Tom and Marie Carlsson” just screams “unnecessarily translated names!”
2. The Missing Chapter and Characters. The next most obvious difference in the two books is that Mardie includes an extra chapter.
Chapter 5 of 9, “Lisbet sticks a pea up her nose,” is a rollicking chapter that was not included in the Mischievous Meg edition, perhaps due to a fight scene deemed unseemly. The two characters introduced in Mardie’s Chapter 5 are Mattie and Mia. They make an additional appearance in Mardie, Chapter 8 (Christmas in Junedale), but this scene is completely omitted in Mischievous Meg.
Mattie and Mia are from a poor family. This is obvious in the way they are described, illustrated, and in the way they act. Mardie/Meg is much more well-off, but the discrepancy between the children is only obvious when faced with this scene with Mattie and Mia. Mischievous Meg is weaker for losing out on this chapter.
3. How much Mardie/Meg understands. Mardie, for example, tackles the true nature of Mr. Nilsson much better than Mischievous Meg does.
Here are two translations:
Mardie: There was no sign of Mrs Nilsson, but Mr Nilsson was asleep on the kitchen sofa. “He’s probably drunk,” said Mardie, “he usually is on Saturdays.” (page 32)
Mischievous Meg: Mrs. Nilsson wasn’t around, but Mr. Nilsson was lying on the sofa, sleeping. “What a lazy man!” Meg said. (page 38)
I find it very interesting that although drunkenness is the topic of the Mardie translation, there is more judgment in Mischievous Meg. In Mardie, she is aware of Mr. Nilsson’s habits but has accepted them without needing to put him down.
4. The geographical, cultural, and historical context of the book. Often when reading the translations, I came across situations where Mischievous Meg loses a bit of context due to an omitted sentence or two that I am sure the translator thought was unnecessary or unfitting for an American audience.
Example One: “People can’t fly,” said Betsy.
“Yes, in airplanes they can,” Meg corrected her. “Albert has told me all about airplanes.” Meg would have given anything to see an airplane, although Ida had told her it was a sin to fly.
“If God wanted people to fly, he would have made birds of them,” said Ida. (page 42)
Compare to Mardie’s text:
‘People can’t fly,’ said Lisbet.
‘Yes they can, in flying machines,’ said Mardie. Abe had told her about flying machines. There were flying machines in the war but in Sweden too they had a few. Mardie would have given anything to see one, though Ida was sure that it was sinful to fly.
‘I tell you, I tell you, if God wanted people to fly He would have given them wings,’ said Ida. (page 36)
Including the sentence about the war and Sweden places the book firmly in a time and place, whereas Mischievous Meg is a little more open to interpretations. I, for one, believe that the details enhance the text. Also, notice the rhythm and character portrayed by Ida in her Mardie sentence, versus the harsh and lackluster tone of Ida in Mischievous Meg.
Example Two: When Albert/Abe gives Meg/Mardie some money (that had supposedly been buried for ages) for her “mental anguish”/”toil and sweat,” Meg/Mardie describes the money like this:
Meg: […] it’s shiny and looks real.” Yes, it looked exactly the way a coin should. (page 86)
Mardie: […] yet it was so bright and looked so real. […] And there was the king’s picture on it. Yes, it looked just as a coin should look!” (page 97)
In this instance, Mischievous Meg’s lack of additional description is a real loss for the book, as the king’s face drives home the fact that this money was not hidden for quite as long as her friend said. I suspect that America’s lack of a king is what killed this sentence in our translation, and that’s too bad.
5. The text coming to life. While Mardie is stuck in bed, she creates her own newspaper that, in one version, pops off the page.
In Mischievous Meg, her writings are included in the text in normal font and have been spell-checked. In Mardie, her writings are recreated by hand with “her” misspellings and appropriate artwork “by” Mardie herself.
Which of the following books would you rather read? Mischievous Meg, left. Mardie, right.
6. General translator differences. There are so many minor differences that I can’t begin to cover them all. In this example, compare the use of language in Chapters 4 of Mischievous Meg/Mardie (A Sad Happy Day/A Very Jolly, Sad Day).
Mischievous Meg: She just had a brain concussion, which isn’t as bad as being dead. (page 48)
Mardie: She just had [a] concussion, which is not so bad. (page 42)
In this example, I give the Whimsy Award to Mischievous Meg for the text, but the better chapter title clearly goes to Mardie.
Eva-Maria Metcalf’s opinions on the differences between the books helped spark my interest in reading all of Astrid Lindgren’s works. There were definitely times when I would give the upper hand to Mischievous Meg – considering name changes, for example. When it comes down to it, Mardie is a superior translation due to its inclusion of the pea chapter, its more complete translation of context, and its inclusion of Mardie’s hand-written notes. And while Janina Domanska’s illustrations are cute and wonderful, Ilon Wikland’s absolute mastery of Lindgren characters makes this choice a no-brainer: Mardie is better. Mischievous Meg isn’t bad – it is good. It’s just that Mardie is excellent.
Eva-Maria Metcalf agrees in her book Astrid Lindgren: “In my estimation, Patricia Crampton’s British translation [Mardie] is far better than its American counterpart [Mischievous Meg], for it retains much of the tone and rhythm of the original. The American version lacks much of the original’s stylistic exuberance and so does not quite reflect the original’s spirit.” (page 36) Yup.
In closing, here is my favorite line from Mardie:
‘Mama, what would you like best of all?’
‘Two really good, sweet girls,” said Mama.
Mardie’s eyes turned shiny and her voice trembled a little.
‘But what would you do with Lisbet and me?’
Here is the same line from Mischievous Meg, because that’s how I read these books:
“Mother, what do you wish for most of all?”
“Two very good little girls,” Mother replied.
Suddenly there was a strange expression in Meg’s eyes, and her voice quivered a little. “What will you do with Betsy and me, then?”